A Project for Students and Citizens

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Bayou La Batre: Week Four

In Bayou La Batre on June 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Angela Cleary is living democracy in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.  Originally from Birmingham, she is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

The most obvious answer for the question, “Where does the work of citizens take place in Bayou La Batre?” would be a City Council meeting. There are biweekly workshops and meetings where citizens can gather at City Hall to discuss matters they would like to bring to the attention of their elected officials.  These topics of conversation usually include political and official business matters, especially after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Bayou Clinic has also become a location where official meetings are held in their state of the art conference room. Non-profit organizations or local and national service providers typically organize these meetings. There are private and public discussions, depending on the hosts of the conference. I’ve heard about numerous public events to inform citizens of updates dealing with their rights as victims of the oil spill.  These venues, however, are accessible, but not commonly used by local citizens.

“Third places” are public locations where community members gather to talk about things that are important to them. There are a variety of places that fit this criterion in Bayou La Batre. Primarily, Christian churches and Buddhist temples are the most obvious examples. There are multiple denominations of churches and three different ethnic temples, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian.

Local businesses are also gathering places for citizens. Sugar Rush is a donut shop in the heart of the Bayou where a few citizens converse before continuing on their way to work. Olé Maria’s, a Mexican restaurant, is also a popular spot for citizens to meet and greet and hang out during the weekdays for a few drinks with karaoke on Wednesdays and Fridays. Karaoke at social outlets seem to be a recurring theme in the Bayou. The Bait Shop and Rodnockers are two other locations that serve as public gathering spaces for citizens. They discuss concerns that relate more to economic than political issues.  Typical conversations of the fishermen include how the catch has been, how the weather affects their plans, and new technologies or ways to improve business.  Sometimes they don’t discuss business at all, but are there specifically for social entertainment and fun.

The location I’ve found the most interesting where people gather is the state docks. People of every race, religion, age, and profession gather here to fish at their leisure or watch the sunset over the water. At times, they converse, other times they go just to enjoy the peace and quiet. This laid back atmosphere is the epitome of a third place, in my opinion. It’s completely open to anyone who is interested in going. There used to be a gazebo and benches there, but they have now been removed after rezoning from the city to the state. I believe people make third places by creating a comfortable, engaging setting. These places usually include music, perhaps some alcohol, and a view of the Bayou. People need to be entertained to come to a third place and comfortable enough to stay at that third place.

The community center and public library are great venues, but these spaces are underused by the public.  At the community center, the rooms and gymnasium have to be rented, which can be a roadblock to the public. The youth and adult citizens of Bayou La Batre have named the lack of community events and the need for a recreation center as two of their top concerns. The physical structure for a recreation center exists, but because of financial constraints, it has not been adopted as the place to hang out or discuss issues that are prevalent on everyone’s minds.

My first reaction is that there is a need for more civic spaces in Bayou La Batre.  When I ask the locals where citizens go to socialize and talk about issues in their community, there is always a little hesitation. Nothing immediately jumps out to them as “the” place. Then I realize, there isn’t a need for more spaces, there is a need to utilize and promote the ones that already exist.

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Selma and Cahawba: Week Four

In Selma / Old Cahawba on June 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Andrew Odom is living democracy in Cahawba, Selma, and Selmont, Alabama.  Originally from Prattville, Andrew is a recent graduate of Auburn University (political science) and will begin Jones School of Law in Montgomery in the fall.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

I am really beginning to find my place in Selma, and I am starting genuinely feel a part of the community. This week has included a variety of activities and responsibilities and I have been very busy around town. At the first of the week I made my way out to Salem Primitive Baptist Church to conduct leadership exercises with the kids. As I stepped out of the truck, a young boy I met last week ran up to me and gave me a big hug. I definitely was taken aback and felt a great joy that I had made such a great impression the first visit. I proceeded to organize kicking lessons for the entire group at Salem and everyone thoroughly enjoyed learning how to kick a football.

After I left Salem, I returned to the office and met with Linda to discuss our plan of action for the Strategic Alliance for Health meeting which would be held the following day. We developed a plan for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the bike trail and decided how we would present it to the consortium members. Bright and early the next morning, we attended the meeting and made our presentation and were met with a very positive response. One of the Strategic Alliance members volunteered to speak at the ceremony on behalf of the group because they were responsible for a number of the bikes and equipment that Old Cahawba received.

I then drove downtown and met with Mayor Evans and discussed the idea for the ceremony and asked for his attendance. We put it down in the calendar for July 26th! It was a real blessing to secure a date and it worked out that Probate Judge Kim Ballard could attend at that date also. From this point, we were able to recruit several more dignitaries and officials into attending the ceremony. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this “ribbon cutting” is that the dignitaries will be riding the new bikes through the ribbon after a countdown! This unique take on an opening ceremony has definitely garnered a lot of attention.

At the end of the week I prepped and planned to meet my selected Living Democracy students. This was an event I placed a lot of thought and emphasis into because I would be meeting parents as well as students and their siblings. The hours seemed to go by so slow as I anticipated their arrival, until suddenly the time flew by when the time arrived. Mrs. Susan Wood, Mrs. Linda Derry, and I greeted the students and their parents as they showed up and I began the relentless exercise of getting a picture with each student, talking with their parents, and explaining the initiative to them. After all of the students and their families arrived, we fellowshipped with pizza, soda, and cookies.

As I stepped to the front of the room and all of those eyes, young and younger, pointed my direction. My heart began to race but as I begin speaking I built confidence and introduced the group to who I am and what I am in Selma for. I was followed by presentations from Linda and Susan. After we finished speaking, I was comforted by the smiles of parents who were very proud of each and every one of their students. I believe that I introduced them to an exciting initiative and that energy now resides with me to do everything I can to make the rest of this summer a time that they will never forget.

Linden: Week Six

In Linden on June 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

During my time in Linden, I have been present for key discussions during City Council, Industrial Development Board, and Utility Board meetings. Each meeting has uniquely shaped the city into its current state.

My attendance at these has provided me the unique opportunity to report the results of my work for Living Democracy.  For example, during the City Council Meeting on June 5, and the Industrial Development Board meeting on June 11, I gave updates on Linden’s promotional DVD script.  My information was received very well, and I have already been encouraged by constructive feedback.

Through participating in these meetings, I have learned first-hand the importance of citizen involvement in civic meetings.  The board members hold their positions because they care about Linden, and they desire to make the future even brighter than it already is.  To achieve that, they really do want to hear the public’s vision for the community.  They desire to help citizens help Linden.

In the short time that I have been participating in these civic meetings, I have received positive, uplifting comments that have encouraged me to keep working and keep persevering through whatever adversity I face throughout my project.

For example, recently I sent a copy of a draft of Linden’s promotional DVD script to the Industrial Development Board.  When I sent it, I informed the IDB that I was currently in the process of condensing it.  Soon after I sent the e-mail, I received a comment back from Mr. William Curry, a former member of City Council and current member of the IDB and the Linden City Schools Board of Education.  He wrote, “This is great Blake, and I am sure the condensed version will be even better.”

Also, in response to that same e-mail, Mrs. Gelean Wicks, owner of Screamers and current IDB member, stated, “You make me want to live here.”

Little comments such as Mr. Curry’s and Mrs. Wicks’ have served as great encouragement for me during my time in Linden; however, words are not the only way in which the IDB has helped me succeed throughout my Living Democracy project.  In the first IDB meeting I attended, Mayor Mitzi Gates introduced me to them, and then she asked for $350 to $500 dollars to help with a project we were conducting with Linden’s Youth Advisory Board.

After thinking about it, Dr. Walter Davis, the Chairman, simply did not believe that amount of money was sufficient.  The IDB graciously allowed us to use up to $1,500 dollars to make the project a success.  Their immense generosity has helped boost both our project and our morale, and I am very thankful for their input and support.

I think that the few personal experiences I have described in the short time I have been in Linden prove the desire of board members on not only the IDB, but also the City Council and Utility Board, to help the citizens of Linden improve the city by working together.  They are there to help, but citizens must seek their support and advice.

While some citizens do voice their opinions and ideas in civic meetings, involvement and participation is not very high.  However, some people, such as Mayor Mitzi Gates, believe this fact could be a good indication of the good work that current city officials are doing.

In an e-mail interview with Mayor Gates, she said, “I’m not discouraged by the fact that citizens rarely attend our public meetings. To me, a lack of citizen attendance means in large part that the elected and appointed officials are representing our constituents satisfactorily!”

The mayor continued to say, “When those full meetings occur, infrequent though they may be, the citizens know that they will be heard, that their opinions are valued, and that the elected and/or appointed leaders will make the decisions they believe are in the best interest of all citizens.”

Elected officials are effectively serving as the expressive voice for the citizens, and they continuously welcome public input from Linden’s citizenry.  Their effort makes it logical to conclude that Linden’s representative democracy is alive and flourishing.  The hard work of the City Council, Industrial Development Board, and the Utility Board will assure Linden’s representative democracy remains healthy for a very long time.

Valley: Week Two

In Valley on June 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Given Valley’s unique sense of community, there is great potential to become an even better place to live. At the moment, Valley is in an economic crisis. The unemployment rate is quite high, and there are very few available jobs. A key factor in bringing Valley to its full potential will be revamping the economy and creating more job opportunities. Citizens hope that showcasing all of the town’s assets will bring more people into the Valley and help stimulate the economy. By celebrating Valley’s history and creatively using resources, the citizens want to make Valley both a tourist destination and a wonderful place to stay and live.

One of the dreams that the citizens of the town have is to revitalize the mills in Valley. There are four old mills in the city, one for each of the four mill villages. The Fairfax and Shawmut mills are unfortunately already on their way to being destroyed, but years ago the city of Valley purchased the Langdale and Riverview mills in hopes of preserving the Valley’s history in the textile mill industry. In the past few years, there has been a focus on revitalizing the Langdale mill. There are plans to make the mill a city center bustling with restaurants, shops, and event space. Because Valley has no downtown area, the city hopes that the centrally located Langdale mill will give the citizens a place to come together as a community.

In conjunction with the Langdale mill project, Valley is also working on a mill museum housed in the Langdale mill that proudly displays artifacts and stories of what life was like working in and around the mills. Although there are many items already in the mill, the city and its citizens are constantly searching for interesting things that will tell more about mill life. Valley is a part of a large stretch of old textile mill villages throughout the south, and would like to be a hot spot for curious people to learn all about a typical mill village.

Aside from improving the economy, citizens also hope to spread the pride that many already have for Valley. Each individual has something special that they can contribute to the community. The more pride everyone takes in the city, the more the citizens are willing to do what they can to make the city better. Through pulling together and accomplishing smaller goals, that sense of pride within Valley’s residents will grow and Valley will achieve its true dream of becoming a strong, united, and lovely community.

Elba: Week Three

In Elba on June 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Alexis Sankey is living democracy in Elba, Alabama.  Originally from Highland Home, she is a sophomore majoring in psychology at Auburn University. Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.  

Greetings from Elba, AL! This week has been very exciting for me and the students of JumpstART.We’ve been working hard all week to create projects based on one of the most dynamic elements of art: line. First, we started off by discussing lines and creating basic lines. We talked about how something as simple as a line, with the proper placement, can create movement in your paintings! Next, we began painting lines. Straight lines, curvy lines, dotted lines; you name it, we had it! I was very surprised with the outcome of the projects. Some students grasped the project in ways I never thought possible, while others had their own ideas of what a line should be. However, that was perfectly fine! Above following directions, following vision is very important in our class.

JumpstART is just a small part of what the citizens of Elba want for their community. Overall, they would like consistent recreation for the youth in the community. This is a recurring problem with no clearcut solution, often referred to as a wicked problem. A wicked problem is a problem with no definite beginning or end. Each one is unique and can even be a symptom of another problem. The lack of recreational activities for youth in Elba is a problem that has had many small solutions, but not much has withstood the tests of time and other hurdles.

The interesting thing about this wicked problem is that there have been solutions proposed to deal with this lack of recreation for the youth. There was a park built in recent years called Tigertown Park. There was also a skating rink that was once open and regularly operational. Day camps for youth were also started to keep them entertained. The Elba Parks & Recreation building tried and is still trying to provide the youth of Elba with alternative ideas for entertainment with sports and more.  However, these solutions proved not to be completely sufficient.

Tigertown Park, though it is a beautiful place to allow your children to play, appears to specifically cater to a very young age group. It doesn’t allow much enjoyment to many people over 10, unless you just enjoy a nice quiet seat in a peaceful area. The skating rink in Elba is no longer open for regular business. The day camps that come to Elba are just that, day camps. They offer no sustainable opportunities for recreation or youth entertainment. The funding for these day camps is also limited, so even if the program gets a great deal of interest, it might not even be able to cater to all who are interested.  The Parks & Recreation building tries to provide opportunities for youth to be entertained, but the citizens of Elba either want more options that occur more consistently.

Just like other wicked problems, this issue of lack of recreation can be looked at as a side effect of another problem. Elba is a very small town, which is one of the great things about it. However, the fact that it is small might not really attract the major entertainment and recreation opportunities that the citizens of Elba are interested in. This does not mean that it won’t improve, but it will take time. Since I’ve been in Elba, I’ve witnessed the development of Pea River Outdoors, a business centered on outdoor fun near the river. It includes boat rentals and more! There is also talk of a movie theater being developed in the downtown area in the very new future! Elba is developing more and more every day. Though they face a wicked problem, they are dealing with it in new and inventive ways.